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Hiking in Nelder Grove: Through The Burned Trees To The Old Granddad Tree

I had been dreading taking this hike because of the devastation left behind when the 12,047 acre 2017 Railroad Fire roared through the area. It would be a sad hike through many burned trees to visit the Giant Sequoias along the Graveyard of the Giants Trail up on Nelder Ridge.

Where: Sierra National Forest, Nelder Grove.
Distance: 6.28 miles, but you can walk much farther or shorter if you wish
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 5,109′ – 6,040′
Date: December 2, 2020
Maps: Ahwahnee Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? Yes

To reach my hike, I headed north on Hwy 41 out of Oakhurst, turning right on Sierra Sky Ranch Rd., past the turnoff to Calvin Crest and followed the signs to Nelder Grove on Road 6S90. The gate that leads to the Interpretative Center and Campground closed at the end of the summer, so I parked along the road in a pullout.








It was 31 degrees when I started up the road, walking around the closed gate and up the road.








The road led me by the Interpretative Center but I didn’t stop and visit it this time. Nelder Grove is named after John Nelder. From the Friends of Nelder Grove’s Home Page:

In 1849 John Nelder left New Orleans to find gold. He traveled west to California along with thousands of other gold seekers.

After growing weary of prospecting, he came to the grove in 1875 and built a cabin in the shadows of the towering trees. It seemed that after a life of searching, the true treasure he sought was not gold but the wonder of nature.

John Muir, famed naturalist and author, met John Nelder outside his cabin under the sequoias in 1875. In Muir’s book Our National Parks (1901) he describes walking with Nelder. “His eyes brightened as he gazed on the trees that stand guard around his little home; squirrels and mountain quail came to his call to be fed, and he tenderly stroked the little snow bent sapling Sequoias, hoping they yet might grow straight to the sky and rule the grove.”

Nelder lived in the grove for 14 years, making shakes and souvenirs from the sequoia bark and red dye from the sequoia cones and seeds.

In 1889 his cabin burned down and he passed away shortly thereafter.

Some information about Nelder Grove but note that this information was before the Railroad Fire destroyed some of the trees:

  • The grove consists of approximately 1,540 acres in the Sierra National Forest.
  • Currently there are about 100 mature sequoias mixed in a forest of pine, fir and cedar.
  • Nelder Grove was first named Fresno Grove of Big Trees because it was in Fresno County. The Grove was first surveyed in 1874 by the
  • General Land Office. It was not until 1937 that the name Nelder Grove appeared on Sierra National Forest maps.
  • The creek that flows through the campground is now called California Creek, but it was originally called Nelder Creek.
  • The creek that flows through the Shadow of the Giants trail, is now called Nelder Creek, but it was originally called Alder Creek.
  • Nelder Grove is a natural habitat for wildlife: black bear, mule deer, weasel, raccoon, gray squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels to name a few.
  • Bird life also favor the area: tanagers, juncos, sparrows, hawks and at least three different species of woodpeckers. The spotted owl is rarely “spotted,” but can be heard.
  • Two historical cabins have been moved to Nelder Grove from Biledo Meadow.
  • Lady bugs and monarch butterflies migrate through Nelder Grove.

  • The giant sequoias in the grove grow in four separate groups:

    • California Creek (18)

    • Nelder Ridge (14)

    • Nelder Basin (53)

    • Sierra Beauty (16)

      • Numbers in parentheses signify how many mature sequoias were in each group before the Railroad Fire burned some of these trees.

  • Nelder Grove Historical Area is designated as a special interest area

  • The U.S. Forest Service acquired the land from the Madera Flume and Trading Company in 1928.

When I reached the wide spot before the campground, I veered to the left to hike up the Graveyard of the Giants Trail. The trail follows an old road and Madera Sugar Pine Company Railroad grade to reach the grove located on Nelder Ridge. But there are other trails you can explore and you can view a great Trail Map with mileages for Nelder Grove toward the end of my blog under Maps and Profiles.










The beginning of the trail was blanketed in Oak leaves and although they weren’t real colorful they were very pretty.

OK, this was the part I wasn’t looking forward to. In the spring I had stopped by Shadow of the Giants which is downhill from this area and saw the horrible devastation that the Railroad Fire did to these huge trees in that grove. This was the uphill side of where the fire had burned through the area and although the trees I was about to walk through weren’t as huge as the trees in the Shadow of Giants, the acreage was much, much bigger. As I entered into the burned area, I could see what lay ahead of me.

All of the trees were burned, every single one of them.

It wasn’t like I was walking in an ash tray right after a fire because bear clover and ceanothus blanketed most of this area.

Crews had done a fantastic job of cutting down trees adjacent to the trail but there had been a few recent down trees since that work. There weren’t any that I couldn’t walk around or over but a horse would need to jump over a couple of the 2 foot high down logs to get through. I wouldn’t hike in this area on a windy day because you just don’t know when one of the standing snags might come down.








A look back toward the valley.

And if you looked a little closer you could see new baby Giant Sequoias and Incense Cedars.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

The trail  led me on.

As I reached the north west corner of the hill, I could see partially scorched trees with green tops.

A smidge of snow still hung around in protected areas.

Then I soon caught sight of the Hawksworth Tree and it looked unharmed by the fire. There used to be a sign next to the tree indicating te name of this tree but it wasn’t there. This tree was named to honor John and Marge Hawksworth who were campground hosts for 20 years at Nelder Grove. But did you know that tree was called a different name before that?

Brenda Negley’s book Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias: A Granddaughter’s Stories has wonderful background on the trails and big trees on this hike. She shares many, many stories that she heard from her grandparents and here is one of those. Marge Hawksworth’s favorite tree was this one and she called it “The Bee Tree” because it had a nest of bees that once lived in it. After she passed away in 1997, the United States Forest Service officially named this 2,000 year old Sequoia to honor John and Marge.

In her book, she also shares statistics on the trees in Nelder Grove. The Hawksworth Tree has a circumference at 4 1/2 feet above the ground of 64 feet.

I followed the trail up to the Old Grandad Tree and The Kids, curious what I would see because I had heard it did get some fire. This isolated mature sequoia has one huge branch outstretched like a protective arm and is believed to be very old. Below this tree are several young sequoias. From Brenda Negley’s book, the circumference at 4 1/2 feet above ground is listed 53 feet. It had several fire scars, half of the top was dead, it was hollow at the top, had 4 volunteer leaders and carpenter ants. Remember, this information was from before the Railroad Fire.

“Granddad and the Grandkids was named by Joe Scmeller and J. Gordon Garret one day while they were eating lunch near the tree. They characterized the tree as an old pioneer telling his Grandkids (the young sequoias) how he came out of the east (a large limb pointing to the east) to be come established on Speckerman Mountain.”

The Granddad Tree did suffer some significant fire damage from the Railroad Fire but still had a little green on its top and is still pointing it’s limb eastward. I hope it can make it. Some of the Grandkids also don’t appear to be alive.

Photo by Scarlett Bullock

But please check out the baby Giant Sequoias at the base of Granddad. Great Grandkids?

Photo by Gail Gilbert

I headed back and noticed the new views since the tree cover wasn’t there such as looking toward Fish Camp and the Tenaya Lodge.

And I noticed this little oak still sporting its fall colors.

I was almost back to the car when dogwood leaves, past their fall color prime, demanded my camera take a picture of them.

Much of Nelder Grove was untouched by the Railroad Fire and there are other trails to hike such as a visit up to the Bull Buck Tree. You can check out some of my prior blogs on Nelder Grove or better yet, I highly recommend Brenda Negley’s book “Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias: A Granddaughter’s Stories” for background on the trails and big trees on this hike, which has been updated to include the Railroad Fire impacts on the grove. It is full of detailed information that I cannot recommend enough if you would like to learn more about this very special place. Her grandparents, William “John” and Marjorie “Marge” Hawksworth, were the first volunteer campground hosts in Nelder Grove and protected it for 20 years from 1975 to 1995. Brenda spent many a summer up there with them, learning their stories and the history. If you would like to purchase your own copy, you can find it at Gift Works and the Visitor Center. Brenda also has some copies and can help you get it. You can contact her via email Brenda.negley@gmail.com and she said if you purchase directly through her, she can personally autograph the book.

There is a wonderful website maintained by Friends of Nelder Grove that you can access at this link: Friends of Nelder Grove Website. It has maps that you can print out, an interpretive guide that you can download for your visit plus much more.

Dog Hike?

I think this can be a great dog hike and have taken my dogs Sally and Fannie many times. There are a variety of trails, some very level and others with some elevation, to explore. In the summer you might need to bring extra water for your dog because the creeks may be dry. I left my dogs home on this hike because I just wasn’t sure if water for them would be available but there was running water in Nelder Creek on this day.

Friends of Nelder Grove share the following related to dogs in the grove: Practice Responsible Pet Ownership. This means controlling your pets’ interactions with people and wildlife in natural areas. Please keep your pets leashed within developed recreation sites. We also ask that you “scoop the poop.”

Nelder Grove is located within the Sierra National Forest and they have a link to dogs in the Sierra National Forest called Canine Camper that you can access here. Even though this is not classified as a wilderness area, here is what they have on their website:

Domestic pets are allowed in wilderness areas. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. When camping in areas with other visitors, pets should be kept on a leash. Wilderness visitor’s who plan to travel into an adjacent National Park should be aware that National Parks do not permit pets.

We ask the public to remember these rules when taking pets into the wilderness.

  • Bury feces.
  • Do not tie up dogs and leave them unattended.
  • Do not allow dogs to chase wildlife.
  • Leave unfriendly or loud dogs at home.


What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Nelder Grove Hike to Old Granddad Tree Doarama


Nelder Grove Hike to Old Granddad Topographic Map

Nelder Grove Hike to Old Granddad Profile

Nelder Grove Map (Courtesy Friends of Nelder Grove)


Negley, Brenda L., Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoia: A Grandaughter’s Stories, (Baltimore, Otter Bay Books, 2016)
Friends of Nelder Grove Home Page
Wikipedia List of Giant Sequoias

Prior Blogs on This Area:

Adventures with Candace: Hiking with Fannie at Nelder Grove May 29, 2020
Leaf Peeping With Mom Around Nelder Grove November 2, 2018
A Misty Day with the Dogwood Blooms at Nelder Grove May 12, 2017
Hiking From Nelder Grove To Kelty Meadow October 26, 2015
Hiking with Sally and Raven in Nelder Grove October 5, 2015
Nelder Grove Hike With Mom And Sally April 28, 2015
Hiking With Sally In Nelder Grove November 4, 2014
New Nelder Grove Online Information July 25, 2014
Nelder Grove Dog Hike January 24, 2014

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